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RAISING MONEY FOR CRISIS Earlier this year I wrote a Christmas song called 'Christmas Eve, Gracehurch St.' - a serious but ultimately uplifting number with compassion and social justice at its heart. All proceeds from sales of the single are going to CRISIS, the UK charity for single homeless people. Please share the YouTube video for the song if you can. The more people we reach, the more money we can raise for this really important cause.
It will be released as a download on Dec 1st, together with my own reflective arrangement of 'Good King Wenceslas', but you can pre-order it now on Bandcamp. Although it will be available through all the usual music stores in due course (iTunes, emusic etc), Bandcamp enables purchasers to pay above the minimum price of £1 if they want, which is great for a charity release.
'Christmas Eve, Gracechurch St' is the first of my recordings to feature the vocal talents of my partner Gareth Forster. It also features my Cherry Mint Koala colleagues Tony Woollard and Charlie Brown on cello and violin respectively, and the lovely ladies of Colliers Wood Chorus in South London bringing a joyous choral lift to the grand finale.
The song itself is dedicated to a good friend Richard Hanson, who Gareth first met at primary school in Newcastle. The day I finished writing the song, we discovered that Richard was terminally ill and had only weeks left to live, following a prolonged battle with leukaemia over the previous year. He was only 45. From that day, this song became - for me - Richard's song.
Richard was a generous, humble and loving man who gave so much to those in most need, both in his local community in Sheffield and also further afield through his photographic work for the charity Tearfund. This was their obituary for him.
As charity singles go, we obviously don't have the advertising budget or celebrity kudos of Band Aid 30. We're mainly relying on people being willing to spread the word to their friends, family and work colleagues, so please, please, PLEASE join in! Share the video, the audio or the Bandcamp music store page.
BUSY BEE I've been putting out a series of video posts from the Cherry Mint Koala recording sessions on YouTube (see the Cherry Mint Koala page on this site, my Facebook music page or my tumblr blog) with a bit of an explanation for each one. There are still a few more to come yet. There have been a fair few lovely comments from people along the way. Please do share the videos around if you get the urge!
The Cherry Mint Koala album was originally going to be released in the summer, but I realised there were necessary legal clearances to sort out for a couple of the arrangements (Pack Up Your Troubles and I Feel Love), not to mention the MCPS licence for the physical CD. These things all take time, so it made sense to push back the release to the autumn. Hopefully that will proceed as planned, although PR may dictate when it actually happens. I'll post news as and when.
Our gig in Collier's Wood was a great public debut for us and warmly received. We may be doing something else down there before the year is out, and hope to be doing some other London area gigs soon. The encore from that debut gig may also form the basis of a little competition for my mailing list and Facebook music page friends before the album comes out...
On the more Mark Northfield side of things, we recently had a big recording session for my 'bringing pathos and slightly tragic arrangements to Europop' covers album I've long been planning/threatening. Most of the piano and strings are now down; other instruments and vocals will follow (I have some previous vocal collaborators on board).
In the same recording session, we also laid down the bones of a Christmas song I recently wrote while trying to escape the World Cup (my other half quite likes his football). It's a gritty but heartwarming little number incorporating various carols into its structure. I'm really rather proud of it. The subject matter and the timing of its completion means there is also someone in particular I intend to dedicate it to. But more on that when it comes out.
I've also just put a few off-the-cuff solo piano pieces up on my Soundcloud page, with some more to follow. These were essentially improvisations, with a little manuscript scribble of melodic ideas here and there, recorded in a few hours one day earlier this year. The idea was that they might be of library use for film/TV (one has to make a living somehow). However, I've realised they could have wider appeal so I'm making them available on Soundcloud. They are rather more simple, positive and uplifting than most of what I produce. However, this ties in with my day job playing for dance: it's not all melancholic intensity there!
ALL GUNS BLAZING In case you haven't spotted it, there's a new page on this website named 'cherry mint koala'. This is the name of my new piano trio, and if you click on the page all will be explained!
Over the past six months I have been busy with arrangements, recordings and video editing for that project, which also ties in with another dance project at my school (ArtsEd) using both my music and some reworkings of WW1 pieces (namely Pack Up Your Troubles and a curiously moving mash-up of It's A Long Way To Tipperary with The Last Post). I fully intend to record these WW1 pieces as soon as is practical, and maybe, just maybe, they might find their way on to the Cherry Mint Koala album when it appears later in the spring.
Cherry Mint Koala already have one gig lined up, as part of the Colliers Wood Arts Festival. Sun 18th May, 5pm, Christ Church, Colliers Wood, SW19. Tickets £5. Details and booking details on the festival website.
I also have a new digital EP out in May, which features as its title track the sung version of the first trio piece I've put online: Let The Body Go. I shot a rather intense performance video for this back in January with the help of cameraman Simon Bennett (who previously shot The Up Shit Creek Blues video for me, and who also did the second Cherry Mint Koala recording session for us last autumn) and choreographer Eva Perdiki Holdsworth who choreographed the contemporary duet on the Waiting For Green video.
Yes, I could have got an actual trained dancer to do it - I know enough of them through my work, after all! - but because the song is so personal to me I felt it should be me in the video. And sometimes in life you have to take risks to find out exactly what you're capable of... This will be appearing early in April a few weeks prior to the EPs release.
I also recorded another new track for the EP: a ripe slice of glum-pop called Giving You What You Want, and being very chuffed with the result I thought it also deserved a video in its own right. Thinking it would suit the subject matter involved, I decided to revisit the DIY wordy animation territory I previously explored with The Death Of Copyright, only this time not with dancing letter tiles but a simple notebook and pen.
The Europop covers album is also slowly coming together. I've been concentrating on the above things more, but rest assured it is being meticulously planned whenever I get the chance. I can promise you it will be rather atmospheric and full of surprises to anyone who knows the originals.
One of the tracks from it I've previously mentioned (and linked to) will be making an appearance on next month's Let The Body Go EP, namely my gently waltzing reconstruction of Robyn's Dancing On My Own. This was unexpectedly used for a whole series of trails on BBC Radio 2 last October for their Faith In The World Week which had the theme of 'living alone well'. It was lovely to have something of mine on mainstream radio, though it would have been nice if they'd actually played the song in full at some point and told listeners who it was!
But there. You win some...
MEMORIES AND ECHOES I'm finally giving my 2003 album ANACHRONISMS a digital lease of
life, 10 years on, via Bandcamp. It's curious to revisit the past in
this way, but I always thought it a considerable shame that this early collection of mine got lost in those few years immediately before digital
distribution became absurdly simple.
Not only that, but in my current reflective frame of mind it seems strangely apt to take stock of the past. My mother died earlier this summer and there have been a flood of memories to swim through since. Somehow, listening to old songs helps to knit those memories together and put life events into perspective. Of course, for most people these songs will be completely new, and hopefully of some interest in revealing my more raw singer/songwriter side, which doesn't get so much of a public outing these days.
This album originally started life as an 8-track live demo in a tiny home studio in late 2001, hence the occasional clatter of fingers on keys. Extra tracks and instrumentation were added during 2002 as and when time and money allowed. There was no grand concept involved, unlike the albums which followed; it was very much a snapshot of my musical explorations of the time, particularly influenced by artists such as The Divine Comedy, Philip Glass, Kronos Quartet, Rufus Wainwright, Stereolab and Bjork.
It features my first ever attempts at string arrangements (Take It
From Me and The Well Tempered Improviser), the usual truckload of
wistful melodic melancholy lightened with the occasional jaunty rhythm,
and no guest vocalists whatsoever. (That little foible only began with
the Ascendant project.) The lyrics mostly tackle the darker
undercurrents of love and how these shape our identity, but there are a
few more defiantly optimistic moments, most notably in the theatrical
closer Carefree Singalong.
It can be digitally purchased for the entirely reasonable sum of £2.50. Alternatively, you could just listen to it for free online. (Hey, who am I to argue with the tide?)
As with most of my stuff, I think it sounds best in headphones on a train, but please experiment if you have neither to hand.
BACK TO LIFE Well, it's been a long, hard winter, hasn't it? As planned, I had a busy autumn 2012 writing new arrangements of old songs for my piano trio project with cellist Tony Woollard and violinist Charlie Brown. We had a very successful and enjoyable first recording/filming session in late October, covering six of the tracks, mainly from the Ascendant period.
And then as unplanned, I went and stupidly broke my collarbone in November.
After much initial gnashing of teeth, I had an operation to insert a metal plate. Then came two grindingly slow months trying to regain use of my arm. This is still very much work in progress even now (I'm not back on the bike yet and movements still hurt plenty in certain directions...) but I am doing most of my dance class work again at least. And with the coming of spring, it's very much time to get moving with my own music again.
Videos of the six tracks from the October session will be posted over coming months, and we will be recording/filming our second session in the not too distant future. These will be collected together into an album later in the year. There should be some classical gigs to follow as this was always our intention.
THE COVERS ALBUM My other main project for this summer is recording an album of stripped down moody covers of Europop songs. Back in 2011 I covered ABBA's 'The Day Before You Came' for The Death Of Copyright EP and the very positive response it received set me thinking that I should do more in this vein.
Europop interests me particularly because it is often seen as being completely lacking in any artistic credibility, and like any good Englishman I do love an underdog! Of course, the truth is that any musical theme or set of chords can be expanded and developed, and sometimes what makes a cover work is knowing just what to leave out, as well as how much time to take.
I also think this is a very interesting decade for Europe, both socially and politically, and these melancholic songs serve as a curious homage to that era of optimism for the continent which now seems to have been lost in the financial depression of our times.
Another cover I recorded back in 2011 the same day as the ABBA one was Robyn's 'Dancing On My Own'. However, this never made it on to the Nothing Impossible EP owing to some ridiculous shenanigans with the publisher over my desire to incorporate the theme from a second unrequited love song (Electronic's 'Getting Away With It'). This piece has now been tweaked to turn it into a straightforward cover, albeit one with a strong hint of Electronic in the latter stages. As such it has now crept out of the shadows, and my intention is to include it on the album. You can hear it here on Soundcloud.
Other songs I have worked on for inclusion in this covers project so far are 'What Is Love', 'Self Control' and 'Ride On Time'. I'm mulling over 'Voyage Voyage' and 'No Limit', but I'm not sure about those yet. 'Rock Me Amadeus' is not on the agenda... :)
EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL Music from Alterations forms the soundtrack to the documentary film I Am Orig by award winning writer and stand-up comic Nathan Cassidy. It's a film he has made together with his young son about a year spent giving away money. Appropriately enough, anyone who goes to see the film will be given 50p!
I Am Orig is being shown 4th-25th Aug at The Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry Street. 2.20pm.
Nathan is also doing a related stand-up show called Free Pound (yes, the clue is in the name...) at The Royal Mile Tavern. Amongst many other delightful things, the show features an excruciatingly exquisite re-appropriation of the song 'Drive' by The Cars (as famously used for Live Aid once upon a time).
Free Pound is happening 18th-25th Aug. 8.30pm.
Go and see both!
NOW ON EARBITS There are various online radio services out there, but Earbits is one of the best I've come across, probably on a par with the Sixty-One. It features selected new artists with beautifully presented full-page photos, plenty of info, links, opportunities to join mailing lists etc. and no annoying commercial distractions! They added me to their list of artists this week, so that's pretty cool.
ALBUM RELEASED Alterations finally gets it's official release on July 2nd. It's fully previewable and available to buy from Bandcamp on CD (swish recycled card gatefold wallet thingy with full lyric booklet) for the very reasonable sum of £5 plus P&P, or as a DD for the quite outrageously bargainous sum of £2.50 (in just about any file format you care to name). Bandcamp really are rather marvellous, it cannot be said often enough.
The splendidly indie CD Baby will also be selling the CD (perhaps a better bet for US customers), and it will inevitably be available from various well-known online music purveyors should any of them float your particular boat (emusic, iTunes, Amazon etc). Just bear in mind that the artist always gets a better deal from sites like Bandcamp and CD Baby: they are the Fairtrade options of the music world!
ZOMBIE DRAG VIDEO OUT! The slightly sinister lip-synching video for The Up Shit Creek Blues has at last been unveiled, following some technical shenanigans (Vimeo 1, YouTube 0). See it on the Sound & Vision page of this website, or on Vimeo directly.
BBC INTRODUCING One of my songs will be on BBC Introducing in Berkshire (on BBC Radio Berkshire), Sunday 17th June, 7-8pm. The show contains a 'demo panel', where three songs are commented on by three judges and informally scored. Whilst my songs are far from being 'demos' (tell that to the mastering engineer at Fluid...) I'm pleased to have been picked.
GIG FOOTAGE The splendid Live Sessions gig on Fri 15th June was filmed and some excerpts should find their way online in due course. The gig included some live premieres for two of the tracks from Alterations. (Aurora and The Forecaster)
INTERVIEW There's now an in-depth interview with me in Skope Mag (a splendid US online music magazine) for your reading pleasure. Some thought provoking questions with appropriately lengthy answers. Worth making a cuppa first, I'd say!
VIDEO NEWS The choreography collaboration with David Greenall from earlier this spring - featuring a whole bunch of extremely talented students from Arts Ed, London - is now up on this website (on the 'collaborations' page: see main menu on the left). You can find there the full 25 min piece plus info about both the choreography and the music. An excerpt from the piece is also up on YouTube.
The make-up video for 'The Up Shit Creek Blues' is nearly finished and is looking amazing. I am SO thrilled with it, and extremely grateful to those who have helped bring it to fruition. The song was already pretty bloody dark, but this video amplifies that considerably. Just a few tiny tweaks for the lovely editing chappy to see to, and it'll be ready to unleash...
ALBUM REVIEWS A whole bundle of reviews are popping up for Alterations, mostly very positive I'm pleased to say. A few I've seen go off at the deep end with sarcasm and narrow-mindedness, but clearly some people don't like being presented with anything 'clever' or, worse, 'clever and theatrical'. You can't please everyone, 'tis true.
I will quote the majority of good ones on the reviews page here in due course, but here are some links for now:
Get Ready to ROCK! (Me, rock? Yeah, funny.)